House Democratic leaders shut down debate and amendments late Tuesday night on the first regular spending bill of the year, prompting outrage from Republicans and talk of massive retaliation.
After Republicans refused to agree to a timetable for the Commerce-Justice-Science appropriations bill and insisted on debating a GOP amendment that Democrats had agreed to accept, Democrats curtailed the debate. They eventually went to the Rules Committee for an emergency meeting that ended near 2 a.m. with a new rule that drastically reduced the number of amendments that would be allowed.
“I wonder if there isn’t more freedom on the streets of Tehran right now than we are seeing here,— ripped Rep. David Dreier (R-Calif.), the ranking Republican on the Rules Committee, to Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) at the raucous hearing.
Rules for appropriations bills have historically been open and provide a rare opportunity for the minority to challenge spending or policies contained in the bills.
House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) told Members at a meeting Wednesday to discuss the issue that he wants them to force two votes for every amendment, according to two GOP sources in the room. That tactic, employed by Republicans previously, could cause havoc for Democratic plans to move bills in the coming weeks, and Democratic leaders were huddling to figure out what to do.
Boehner declined at a press conference to elaborate on what tactics Republicans might use.
Obey, meanwhile, threatened during the Rules meeting that if he can’t get his bills done by Aug. 1 he will bring up an omnibus appropriations package after the August recess.
“If we don’t make certain concessions to the calendar, we are simply guaranteeing that we will have an omnibus situation,— he said.
Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) retorted, “If you thought that was so important [to get all 12 appropriations bills done by August], why are you spending every Monday night voting on post offices?—
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) argued that Democratic leaders had tried to come to an agreement with Republicans to keep consideration of the Commerce-Justice-Science bill to a reasonable amount of time.
But since GOP leaders refused, Hoyer said, Democrats needed to act to prevent sprawling debate from swamping a crowded House calendar and resulting in an omnibus later this year.
“We do not think that’s unreasonable and we don’t think it’s unfair,— he said Tuesday night in a colloquy with Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.).
But Cantor charged that Democrats were jumping to conclusions about Republican intentions by cutting off amendments after 22 minutes of debate.
“How is it that we can expect good faith debate?— Cantor asked.
The outrage was swift.
“Repression, arrogance, and tyranny live in the House of Representatives,— said Republican Study Committee Chairman Tom Price (Ga.). “As they rush, in typical fashion, to pass the largest set of spending bills in history, House Democrats have dishonored the body by shutting out those who question their willingness to bury future generations in debt.—
“To our credit, for a dozen years we took on all comers on appropriations bills,— said Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), who had stints as Majority Leader and Majority Whip.
Cantor’s office released a timeline of the evening’s events, noting only 33 amendments were made in order, including nine Democratic amendments, of the 127 that were originally slated for consideration.
“Instead of defending their spending, or allowing it to be curtailed or redirected, Democrats shut down the U.S. House of Representatives after just 22 minutes of amendment debate on the massive sending bill, preventing any Republican from debating its merits or limiting spending,— said a document distributed by Cantor’s office.
But Hoyer spokeswoman Katie Grant said Republicans were to blame.
“Democrats are committed to an open process, but so far Republicans appear focused on playing games to slow things down and play political gotcha, and have been unwilling to agree to reasonable time frames for consideration as we did when we were in the minority,— she said.
Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence (Ind.), meanwhile, said that although the actions of the Democratic majority were “an outrageous abuse of the legislative process,— Republicans were not as concerned about the process as they were about the increase in federal spending.
This is not the first time that an appropriations bill has caused drama on the House floor. In 2007, more than 100 Republicans walked off the floor in protest after Democrats held a vote open on a Republican amendment to the Agriculture appropriations bill until the vote tally tipped in their favor.
The incident resulted in the formation of an investigative committee to review the events of what Republicans called the “stolen vote— in 2008.
Republican protests also forced Democrats to back down in 2007 from an Obey plan to slip earmarks into conference reports instead of to include them in bills, where they could be challenged with amendments.
Jackie Kucinich, Tory Newmyer and Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report.